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Why It’s Time to Give Millennials a Chance to Lead

February 4, 2017, 7:00 PM UTC
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Photograph by Gary Waters—Ikon Images/Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you help millennials feel like they’re part of the company?” is written by Ed Fleischman, chairman and CEO of The Execu|Search Group.

Millennials currently make up the largest portion of the American workforce; therefore, it is critical for companies to understand the needs of these employees.

A recent survey conducted by The Execu|Search Group of more than 1,000 job seekers, working professionals, and hiring decision makers found that 50% of employees are planning to stay at their current company for only two years or less. This suggests that companies will need to work harder than ever in 2017 to keep professionals—a high percentage of whom are millennials—from leaving their company. As millennials progress from entry-level roles into middle management and executive positions, the cost of losing these talented employees will only increase.

Prioritize professional development

First and foremost, to make millennials feel included, employers need to invest in professional development opportunities to prepare these employees for leadership roles. Almost three-quarters of employers polled in our survey said that millennials are not prepared for leadership positions, and employers rated millennials’ lack of loyalty and desire to move quickly up the ladder as the top two challenges they have with employees in this age bracket. The reality, however, is that as older employees retire, millennials will step into roles with greater levels of responsibility, and employers must equip these professionals with the tools they need to succeed as leaders within their companies.

Over three-quarters of millennials we surveyed said that professional development opportunities are one of the most important elements of company culture, and 58% said that they would be more satisfied at their current company if they had access to projects to keep their skills up-to-date. As a result, employers should provide millennial employees with opportunities to tackle hands-on projects that will keep them satisfied in their roles while fostering a corporate culture of ongoing learning. Webinars and online classes are also good options for professional development, but concrete projects provide excellent opportunities for millennials to prepare to fill leadership roles within the company as they become available.

Employers also must communicate about these programs and priorities to millennials. If employees understand that they are on track for leadership roles, they will be more inclined to stay at a company for longer and go above and beyond in their responsibilities, which is a win-win for everyone.


Recognize leadership potential

Employers have the power to break the cycle of millennial job-hopping by making smart investments in their younger employees. Even if they don’t feel that millennials are ready for management roles right now, they must consider the potential of millennials—rather than their experience—when hiring. Specifically, companies should place more emphasis on transferable skills, leadership potential, and cultural fit.

If an employee lacks the technical skills desired for a role, employers should consider the transferable skills that could set them up for success. For example, a candidate with a background in data analysis might be a good fit for a role that requires attention to detail. There are also soft skills that can be used as early barometers for leadership potential in a candidate. Clear communication abilities, which can be assessed in an interview and cover letter, demonstrate that a candidate would be able to communicate effectively with their team down the line.

Additionally, cultural fit is key. Job responsibilities and hard skills can be taught, but work ethic and attitude are harder to change. Employers should consider hiring millennial employees who are team players with high levels of emotional intelligence, as these traits are good assets for any work environment.

By investing in millennials’ growth now, companies will be getting ahead of the curve and positioning themselves and their employees for long-term success.